My almost-nine-year-old just left for his first ever school camp. He was a tad anxious leading up to the event – unanswered questions about a foreign place playing on his mind. He’s had plenty of sleepovers before and would voluntarily move into friends’ homes because they’re often a great deal more interesting than ours, so I was confident that being away from us would be a picnic. For him.
What I hadn’t expected was MY response to him leaving.
As I trundled the bag up to school, he dismissed me at the school crossing. When I protested, explaining I wanted to wave him off at the bus he adopted his “I think there’s dog poo on the sole of my shoe” expression. Other parents walked up to school, arms around their children. I trailed behind mine, embarrassing him by my mere presence.
He boarded the bus and I tried to look nonchalant, striking up a conversation with a friend. All of a sudden I heard a parent calling my name, indicating my son wanted to wave to me from the bus. My son? No, you must be mistaken. I peeped in and could see him happily chatting with his bus buddy. I knocked on the window and asked the girl in the closest seat to grab his attention. I fell into a slight panic that I wouldn’t get to say a fitting goodbye. He turned to the commotion and was quietly horrified as I pressed my face up to the glass and signalled his departure with an enormous wave. The bus driver tooted, however it wasn’t until the principal requested I step back from the bus so it could leave that I realised the noise was directed at me.
So much for the casual approach.
I hadn’t invested much thought into how I felt about my first child leaving for his inaugural camp. I never viewed myself as the clingy parent who couldn’t let go, in fact I ran from the bus pumping the air with a “one down, three to go” chant as I returned home to my remaining children. A feeble attempt at prep talking myself out of tears.
He’s only away two nights and is a fairly quiet presence in our home, so it’s not like the decibel level has dropped notches in his absence. I’ve plenty of other things (and children) to distract me but boy, I miss him. As there’s no contact for the three days, I feel a little lost, like I need to somehow check he’s OK.
If I was reading this from the outside, I would think it was a smidgen pathetic. Hello Helicopter Parent! Two nights away? Allow the boy some peace and independence. But he’s still young, Your Honour. He’s only eight. What if he falls off the flying fox? Or is stung by a bee? What if he’s cold at night or frightened by the unfamiliar place?
Well, clearly the teachers and the camp staff will sort it out. Yeah, OK so that’s really about me and nothing to do with him. Logic doesn’t trump emotion, though.
My only reasonable defence is that I’ve been a mother of little ones for so long, I’m used to being in constant hovering, checking and protective mode. In one sense, my eldest is forced to do things his peers with fewer siblings are not – he has to step into roles beyond his age at times because we have a busy household and my attention is sometimes otherwise engaged. But in other ways, I haven’t quite moved into the sphere of older child parenting – the letting go, that breaking away from the parental hold. It’s harder than I’d anticipated. It pulls at a place deep in your heartstrings, that you didn’t realise was there. He is only eight, so it’s not exactly like I’m sending him to work in a Chinese sweatshop to teach him a global conscience, but I can feel that divide already. It’s not so much the increasing autonomy (let’s admit it, the more independence they have, the more independence we gain), it’s the fact he will be facing the world and all it will throw at him and it’s up to us – his parents - to equip him with the tools to endure and succeed.
So, I ask the vital question: have we done enough for him to survive Grade 3 camp?
How did you feel when your first child left on camp? Were you pumping the air or a nervous wreck or somewhere in between? Join the discussion on the Essential Kids Forums or comment below.
Tthe letting go, that breaking away from the parental hold. It’s harder than I’d anticipated.